What’s Next? You Choose

Whether it’s a life design, job desire, schooling notion, thirst for partnership, or just what you want to do next weekend, there’s a pretty good chance it won’t happen quite according to plan. Or maybe at all.  When your master plan becomes an Also Ran, what are you left with?

I had an interesting exchange the other day with another rider who’d purchased what they hoped was “the horse” for endurance–and soon enough had found themselves at an unexpected crossroads. Upon request I shared what my experience with similar issues had been and was met with basically “Well, I don’t have time to mess about like that for [X time]. I’ve wasted too much time already.”

Sure, I suppose when looking back at various paths that it does kind of look like a bunch of messing around when why couldn’t I just see the right step/answer/logical outcome already? Of course, I’ve heard tell of hindsight being 20/20 and I certainly learned many a valuable lesson from past floundering. Anyway, aside from being slightly rebuffed, the commentary highlighted for me the huge absence of her very expressed feeling for me. Born impatient, easily irritated, independent, result oriented, and stubborn, I used to be very much in a headspace about getting things done properly, right now, this minute, no messing around. The thing is, the more that I’ve wrestled with being a good partner to my horses and my husband in life, the looser my grip on control and Plans has become, and the easier it has all become. Horses and life companions are pretty well The Chosen, no obligations born, but brought willingly into the fold. It seems almost counterintuitive to wrestle with the joy you chose but I and surely others have, and I do think it’s the need to Control and the struggle to Communicate that makes it so, human or horse. Mostly these struggles no longer seem to me like wasted time, I’ve come around to thinking that is a true disservice to the times that ultimately make you what you are.

It seems to me that when things haven’t shaken out as planned despite best effort, choosing, and planning, we’re merely left with how we choose to handle it and what we ultimately get out of it. To bring it around to horse specific again, for me, endurance has always been about a sanctioned reason to hang out with my horse all day and all night and then do it again. Would I like to be out racking up completions and filling my photo wall with gorgeous photos? Sure. Will I be doing that again in the future? Sure hope so. Meantime, lately, when I’m asked When, How Long, my answer is When it’s time, if it works out, and when I’m done messing around.

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Look for the Lesson

One of the best things about horses in my opinion is that the lessons they teach us transcend the animal or hobby. I suppose it must be possible to be around horses with no further emotional investment than “this is fun” or “a job done,” but personally I’m not capable. My own ongoing journey to being a calmer, better, and brighter human has been so irrevocably linked to my failures and successes with horses that the one is inextricable from the other.

11304040_10152785288102031_117548517_nThis isn’t the post to tell all the tales, but for example this: I didn’t used to like Arabians. My first experiences on horses were English riding lessons in Maine on a variety of breeds; my first favorite horse? An ornery chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Ruby. Another favorite was a Morgan gelding who’s ground manners were of the shove tiny me into a wall on his way for vittles type. My first personal horses, years later as a Californian, were a greyhound bodied and minded Appendix mare and a Welsh Pony/QH mare.

You can safely read into that that I didn’t shy away from sassy and smart horses by any means, I just didn’t see the appeal of Arabians at first. As a teenage trail guide at a riding barn on the north coast that also did endurance, I was around numbers of Arabians for the first time– and really? They seemed completely over the top. As a transplated strong willed redheaded youngster with East Coast roots, a somewhat self imposed desire to naturally understand and be good at things right away, a family instilled need to be efficient, and a natural born cowl of impatience, Arabians and I were just made to butt heads at that place in my life. In my world we didn’t *express* and we got shit done, period. Stopping, staring, snorting, spooking–emoting! Well what good is that. That’s not accomplishing anything.  Get on with it. IMPATIENCE! 

Between those years of guiding and buying my first Arabian, there was much Young Person Angst. You’ve been through it or you’re going through it, I don’t think I need to labor the details. The point comes around to being, I bought and bonded with my first Arabian, Blaze, in early 2009 at a raw and new place in life. I’d moved to a new county with a man I barely knew, my Welsh cross mare was freshly and harshly retired by a truck accident, I had no local friends, connections to family were more tenuous than they’d ever been, I could go on. My 2008 model first-ever personal chi-mutt Georgia was my friend, that I knew, and this short, trumpety, spooky, horse aggressive bay, Blaze, was going to be my friend too, by god.

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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^I’m overpointing at this meme because it’s true, it’s so damn true. And horses will teach you this, over and over. They will give you the highest highs, the lowest lows, and if you’re lucky you’ll wake up every morning and get to decide how you are going to handle it all–not deal with, not cope with it, but *handle* it all. The years between Blaze coming home a snotty jerk and becoming the amazing little man he is today are all chronicled on this blog, feel free to browse back.

From Lds with Blaze to 2012s first 50s with Desire to her early retirement– to the *2 year* saga that has been endurance with Scrappy, I have absolutely been discouraged, kicked in the gut, and completely done. Then I got up the next morning, fed those ungrateful gorgeous four legged wretches, and carried on. The horses don’t know how much they cost, in dollars or dreams. Regardless of what emotions or expectations we project for them or inflict on them, the horse *is*. Initially, the sensitivity the Arabians showed to the world and to my own roiling emotions was what repelled me, but as I struggled and grew, it was their honesty that made and kept me honest, with them and myself. The more willing I was to look at my own behavior, in life and with my horses, the better all results became. The calmer, truer, and more open hearted I am, the better they respond, and the better we are together.

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So here we are. Scrappy is out to pasture for a year. I’m riding a nice, but borrowed horse. Things are not as I had imagined or planned, and that’s okay. The struggle isn’t over, all the obstacles are not yet seen or even imagined. I have no idea, in this moment, how I’ll handle them when I encounter them. But I know that I will, and I’ll learn something from it, and be better. I urge others not to grasp too tightly to labels and expectations or grand plans made. Yes, dream. Yes, make goals. But recognize and embrace a positive flexibility– often found rooted in an elusive acceptance of yourself–look for the lesson, and thrive.